Waukegan food pantry makes Christmas feasts possible

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Waukegan parish provides Christmas meals

Most Blessed Trinity Parish in Waukegan distributed 170 Christmas food boxes and clothing to families in need at its food pantry on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021. Visitors received a ham and a box filled with side dishes. The donations are made possible by partnerships with the Knights of Columbus Council #731, St. Patrick Parish in Lake Forest, St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Gurnee, and the Northern Illinois Food Bank. Most Blessed Trinity Parish's weekly food pantry helps individuals and families with food insecurity in the Lake County communities of Waukegan, North Chicago and Park City. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The food pantry is run out of the former St. Bartholomew Church. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Jill McKenzie registers those in need to pick up food. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Santiago Barradas, Brian Aden and Marvin Wagner distribute food to those in need. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Kathleen Aden arranges canned goods on shelves. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Darlene Montesdeoca, food pantry coordinator, sorts through items as volunteers check dates of canned food. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Kathleen Aden and Donna Wagner check dates on canned food in the food pantry. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Yolanda Hernandez sorts through food in the pantry. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Darlene Montesdeoca has served as the food pantry coordinator at Most Blessed Trinity Parish in Waukegan for many years. But before that she was a client in need of food for herself and her daughters.

“I started as a client. It’s going to be 23 years now,” she said.

At that time, the church had a resale shop and she and her daughters needed clothes. When she went to the shop, she learned that they also gave away food.

“I said, ‘There might be someone who needs it more than me.’ And they said, ‘Well, we give to everyone,’” Montesdeoca recalled. “I asked, ‘Since you are giving to me, how can I help?’ I never left.”

Two of her daughters grew up in the pantry. One has special needs, and that motivated her to give back, she said.

“They told me she wouldn’t make it,” Montesdeoca said.

She said it wasn’t easy for her to go to a pantry for food.

“From the Hispanic side, me myself, it was kind of hard for me to take,” she said, but not having to decide between buying food and paying utility bills or rent was a blessing.

“Still, me being a mom of five girls, my oldest is now going to be 32, it was easy afterwards to know at least I put in some time and gave back,” she said. “It’s really a good feeling to know there is somewhere to go. A lot of the clients we have have said, ‘If we wouldn’t be able to get this food. we would pay this or wouldn’t pay that.’”

Each year, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, the pantry distributes boxes and bags filled with donated food to especially to prepare holiday meals. For Christmas, the pantry distributed 170 meal packages that included a spiral ham, sweet potatoes and bread.

“It’s something that the families look forward to,” Montesdeoca said. 

As at many other food pantries across the Chicago area, people began lining up at least an hour before the food distribution began.

Most Blessed Trinity receives donations from its sharing parishes, businesses like Target — which donated all of the spiral hams for the Christmas meal giveaway — Panera Bread, local food drives and the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

The distribution of food is a well-oiled process. A volunteer in the doorway at the side of the church collects client information, including names and addresses, whether they participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and how many children are in the home. Then clients move to the front door, where three volunteers collect the boxes and bags of food, which are passed underneath a plastic partition. 

The former St. Bartholomew Church is the food pantry’s home, housing stacks of canned goods and other non-perishable foods. It also has much-needed items like diapers and toilet paper.

In addition to the holiday meals, the pantry distributes boxes of food each Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The number of families rises and falls depending on whether people in the area can find work, Montesdeoca said.

For example, many clients are immigrants who work as landscapers, and they need more help in the winter months when they are not working as much.

The parish also has a soup kitchen next door to the pantry that serves hot meals from 5:50 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday each week.

“Most of our clients walk here or they take a bus,” she said. “Quite of few of them will come with the little buggies, the carts and they’ll take their meals.”

While food pantries saw a rise in clients in the early months of the pandemic, some of the need tapered off because states and governments released aid to assist people who were laid off or had lost their jobs. However, much of that aid ended in early fall, Montesdeoca noted.

When more pandemic aid was available, the pantry served 60 to 70 families a week, but that has increased to an average of 100 families.

“After some of the stimulus stopped, this is like an every week thing,” she said. “It could go down. It could go up. Even with rain, we still get clients.”


  • hunger
  • parishes

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